Sunday, June 28, 2009

I've been to Paradise, but I've never been to me

‘I know what you can write for your column’, said Thing One this morning, startling me twice over. Firstly (causing me to mis-chop a carrot), because, spookily, at that very moment I’d been wondering what to write. And secondly (causing me to drop the knife on my toe), because I didn’t know she knew I wrote a column. Now she’ll find out I’ve called her Thing One, rather than, say, Princess Fluffy Tinsel, and she’ll lose all respect. Must stop helping her learn to read.
‘What’s your idea darling?’ I asked, as graciously as someone can when they’re wiping blood and carrot juice off their foot.
‘You should write about something in Lewes, like the London Eye’, she replied.
Well, out of the mouths of minors, but I’d been thinking I might have to branch out from the sacred enclosure of Lewes Town into the heady wilderness of Lewes District, particularly in my quest for Activities For Small Children That Don’t Involve Watching Telly. So, at the risk of this column eating itself, here is Thing One’s idea, though we didn’t go quite as far as the South Bank (apparently London isn’t in the Lewes District). Instead we went to the Anti-Lewes.
I worked in Newhaven ten years ago and still have a soft spot for the place. I know you’re snorting into your weetabix, Midwife Girl, but we had some laughs there didn’t we? No? Oh. Everything that Lewes is, Newhaven isn’t. Lewes is soft and squashy; Newhaven is hardcore. Lewes is Wickle; Newhaven is Peacocks. Lewes is a leisurely spliff by the river; Newhaven is a hasty snort of Evostick round the back of Somerfield. Metaphorically speaking.
I like Newhaven’s gritty realism. I used to enjoy watching the expressions of squeaky clean French teenagers off the Dieppe ferry when they first saw the High Street. And I absolutely love Paradise Park. Today, my kids spent the happiest five minutes of their little lives in the Park’s arcade, spraying water from high-pressure hoses at some plastic figures that didn’t do anything, 20p a go. You can’t put a value on memories like that.
Paradise Park is great for kids because they can be scared witless by the unconvincing animatronic dinosaurs. Adults like the astonishingly huge landscaped garden, where it’s possible to get properly lost. You just keep going further away from the café until you start to hear real jungle noises and get a bit freaked out. Aaargh! And then, when you’ve clawed your way back to civilization, there’s a huge garden centre, and plastic toys, and jam in little oblong packets still for tea. What’s not to like?
Disclaimer: The Park’s management has not paid me for this cornucopia of praise. Though they can if they like.
After today’s Newhaven visit, Thing One said, ‘If we lived here, we could go to Paradise Park every day and have fun all the time.’
It’s encouraging that, despite being called Princess Fluffy Tinsel, she appreciates a bit of the old urban grit too.
Beth Miller, 22nd June 2009. Published in

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The only women makin' it are women who are shakin' it

Saturday morning in Nero’s with Aging Lad, who was being oddly enthusiastic about the carnival. All became clear when he explained that last year, it was more than tombolas and candy floss : pole dancing was apparently now a traditional event at summer fairs.

Crèche Manager sprayed a mouthful of coffee – iced, luckily - over Thing One. ‘Pole dancing?’ he spluttered.

Aging Lad nodded. ‘Shocking, it was. I made a complaint, and they said they’d sort it out for this year.’

I was impressed. ‘They agreed not to do it?’

‘No’, Lad said, ‘They promised to get better totty than the raddled old trouts they wheeled out last time.’

‘Maybe you oughtn’t take the kids to the fair’, Crèche Manager said to me, wiping his drink off Thing One’s head. ‘It doesn’t sound suitable. I’ll keep Lad company, make sure he doesn’t get into any bother.’

He was saved from my withering reply by the parade going past. Dozens of Carmen Miranda lookey-likeys weaved through the crowd, singing ‘ay-ay-ay-ay-ay I love you verrr-y much’ to the accompaniment of a steel band… oh no, hang on, that was the Rio Carnival on telly. Lewes’s street revelry was briefer and less culturally diverse, but the unsmiling teenage dancers going through their paces to the tune of Daydream Believer had a special charm of their own.

Rather like pole-dancing, perhaps, which seems to be trying to throw off the shackles (ha!) of its seedy origins and go respectable, as if Peter Stringfellow had decided to become an MP. Maybe not an MP. A bank manager? Hmm. Can’t think of a respectable occupation.

Aging Lad’s tale had made me feel slightly pole-axed. Who knew where else this floor show might turn up? Would the cashiers be pole-dancing in Waitrose next time I popped in for some extra virgin olive oil? Or the turnstile at Lewes Castle be replaced by a pole for visitors to wiggle round?

‘You’ve put on a bit of weight’, Aging Lad said, cutting short my disturbing pole reverie.

‘Pardon?’ I replied, as a float with belly dancing ladies wobbled by.

‘I have too’, he said hastily, ‘so I thought you might like to come to keep-fit with me.’

This was about as likely as Peter Stringfellow becoming a monk (note to self: check if monks have been discredited); Lad wouldn’t normally touch exercise with a ten-foot pole.

‘It reminded me, coming here’, he went on. ‘Lewes Leisure Centre’s running pole-dancing classes.’

‘But of course they are. And the All Saints Centre’s hosting a lap-dancing event.’

‘Is it? Brilliant. They’re not calling it pole dancing, of course’, Lad continued, ‘It’s pole “fitness”. Meaning it’ll be full of fit chicks. Be better if I show up with a woman.’

I shushed him; Thing One was listening attentively to every word.

‘She could do worse when she grows up’, Lad said. ‘Some of those clubs pay birds a fortune.’

By now the parade had passed by, along with any semblance of normality. Crèche Manager and I put our arms round the children, including Aging Lad, and led them gently away from the fleshpots of the Malling Fields.

Beth Miller, 16th June 2009. Published in

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Save it til' the morning after

We don’t need alarm clocks. Thing One, not Greenwich, decides when it’s morning, always erring on the side of barbarically early. She creeps into our bed and immediately embarks on a stream of consciousness, the length and breadth of which make ‘Ulysses’ seem a model of brevity.

It’s apparently a sign of insanity to keep trying the same thing, hoping for a different outcome. Well, section me now, because I play dead every single morning in the pathetic hope she’ll go and dismember some other prey. That never gets me more than three seconds before the start of that day’s edition of Question Time. No expenses-blagging, moaty-bloaty MP ever stuttered under Dimbleby fire as I tremble under Thing One’s fiendish interrogation.

‘Mummy, what bird is that?’ was yesterday’s opening gambit, referring to the demented old-style tweets seeping through the open window.

Even fully alert, I wouldn’t choose the natural world for my specialist subject on Mastermind (thanks for asking: the best biscuits for dunking). At this hour my brain was far away in a happy land where people kept turning into green blancmanges. However, a tap-tap-tap inspired me, and I croaked, ‘wood-pecker’, before registering that the tapping was Thing One hitting my head with a plastic dinosaur.

I’ve tried to outsource the nature study element of parenting to Grange Girl. She occasionally takes Thing One round her beloved Railway Land and tells her the Latin names for weeds. She knows her greater-spotted from her lesser-spotted thrush. But when I gave her the sixteen-page job description, detailing hours and basic pay, Grangey laughed in my face.

Last week, Thing One suddenly got interested in history, another subject I always avoided during that weird era when we all played Trivial Pursuit.

‘Who lived there?’ she said, pointing to the scaffolding around Lewes Castle.

‘Oh, hang on, I know this, it’s on the tip of my tongue’, I stalled, then as we went into Nero’s I spotted Born and Bred Boy. He was quietly ordering a skinny soy latte, changed abruptly to an espresso when he saw us. I asked about the castle, and he said, ‘Oh, everyone knows that! It was Simon le Bon.’

I passed this on to Thing One and she accepted it provisionally, till she could check with her teacher. Amazing how the guys wrote ‘Hungry like the Wolf’ without the benefit of modern toilet facilities.

So it continues. ‘Why are there cliffs if there’s no sea?’ (Answer: ‘Er, because they like it here.’)

‘How many people live in Lewes?’ (‘Ooh, loads’.)

‘Why are there so many shops selling houses?’ (‘I have absolutely no idea.’)

But at last, this morning, a question I could answer. Five-thirty, and her warm little elbows battered against my lifeless form. ‘Mummy?’


‘Can sick be multi-coloured, or is it always orange?’

I sat up, fully alert. ‘You’ve come to the right place darling’, I beamed, and the dawn chorus had long finished before my detailed explanation drew to a close.

Beth Miller, 9th June 2009. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, July 2009. Photo by Alex Leith

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And this little piggy had none

It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a Sussex events organiser in search of a catering solution, must be in want of a large swine and a hundredweight of charcoal.

‘You going to that PTA do?’ Cycle Girl asked yesterday. ‘There’s a band, and there’ll be food, they’re doing a…’ I held up my hand to stop her. ‘They’re doing a hog roast, aren’t they?’ I said. She asked if I was psychic, but I explained I was merely jaded.

In Lewes, you can’t celebrate putting your trousers on the right way without letting off fireworks, while in Sussex in general, you can’t have an outdoor gig or party without sparking up a Gloucester Oldspot. Here a hog-roast, there a hog-roast: Old MacDonald must be laughing all the way to the National Pig Association’s annual dinner dance (one drink and delicious hog roast included in the ticket price).

When we lived in Barcombe, warm weather was inextricably linked to the eternal aroma of pigs turning lazily over spits. The place was – still is - Hog Roast Central. I remember my first outdoor party: there was music, there was dancing, there was copious amounts of vodka, and then there was the disappointment when I realised the only thing I was going to be able to eat was a granary bap, empty save for a drizzle of apple sauce.

‘Vegetarian I suppose?’ people said witheringly, and I felt exactly like the pork sausage at the barmitzvah as I mumbled, ‘No, I do eat some meat, just not… pig…’ and everyone turned to stare. Oh, how I identified with Kyle from South Park at that moment, and his plaintive lament, ‘I’m just a lonely Jew at Christmas’.

I’ve lived in considerably more uncircumcised places than Lewes, such as North Wales where I was part of the tourist itinerary: ‘Over there is Snowdon, this is Lake Bala, and here’s the only Jew within a hundred miles.’ Lewes is way more New York than that. Why, you can buy a chollah loaf in ‘Cheese Please’, and sometimes on the High Street you can spot someone in the throes of a really expressive shrug (though usually they turn out to be French tourists). But come the summer and it’s hard not to feel left out of the hog roast hijinks.

My brother visited last July. Both of us have long since lost much of the baggage of our religious upbringing, but I retain the food thing and he can’t let go of the crippling mother-guilt. I do admire the way he tucks into prawn chow mein and bacon sarnies, as though he really doesn’t believe that forked lighting is going to strike him down at any moment. I took him to an outdoor gig where they had, well, you know what they had. I got him a roll filled to bursting with glistening roast pork; mine was sparsely decorated with cucumber. He took a huge bite, and rolled his eyes. ‘Oy vey’ he said, ‘this is good’.

Beth Miller, 3rd June 2009. Published in and in Viva Lewes magazine, June 2011. Photo by Alex Leith